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What is the Future of Nuclear Energy in the United States?

01/26/16

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Does nuclear energy have a role in the clean energy future of our country? Currently, nuclear production accounts for 797.1 billion kilowatt hours annually, or 19.5 percent of total generation in the United States, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute. About 30 percent of all the nuclear power in the world is generated in the U.S. by 99 power reactors in 30 states, the World Nuclear Association reports. That number could grow or fall in future years, depending on a variety of factors. Read on to learn more.

Clean Power Opportunities

Nuclear power is far less harmful to the environment than burning coal or natural gas, most notably in its relatively negligible contribution to air pollution and climate change, according to NASA. If we want to make dramatic cuts to emissions, nuclear can be a major player along with wind and solar generation.

Despite its promise, nuclear power fell out of favor in the United States for decades, following the Three Mile Island accident in 1977 and cheap natural gas prices making nuclear less competitive for powering the country's electrical work. The World Nuclear Association does expect six new plants to be completed in the country by 2020, however. That number could rise in future years, depending on several variables including natural gas prices, public sentiment, technological advances and progress toward meeting emission reduction goals.

The Challenges Posed by Nuclear Energy

However, nuclear generation is not a panacea for our electrical work, and it does pose two large problems. The first is what to do with spent nuclear fuel, which can remain dangerous to humans for millennia. Currently, spent fuel is usually stored on-site at generating plants after it is used, but the country has still not figured out an effective long term solution.

The other big caveat when it comes to nuclear energy is the capacity for disaster. On a day-to-day basis, nuclear plants are far less harmful to humans and the environment than coal, but in the event of a meltdown or other malfunction, the damage can be catastrophic. Look no further than the ongoing health and environmental problems that stemmed from the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan to see the consequences when nuclear power goes wrong.

The Cloudy Future of the Nation's Electrical Work

For now, there is no firm answer to what the future of nuclear energy is in the United States. The industry could grow into a larger piece of the nation's clean energy future, or it could end up phased out entirely if there is another major accident, or if renewable sources continue to grow in market share and effectiveness.

If you have any questions about where your electricity comes from, or need any electrical work performed in your home, call a residential electrician today.




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